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Stewart wins abbreviated Fontana race

Tony Stewart claimed his second NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the 2012 season, in a race at Fontana dominated by the timing of the arrival of incoming wet weather front.
The Auto Club 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race was a curiously perfunctory affair, with teams up and down pit road seemingly having to spend more time obsessing over the weather radar than they did the action on the track.

The problem was clear: a weather front was slowly rolling over southern California toward Fontana and the 2-mile oval that is the Auto Club Speedway. Once it hit, it was going to rain for a good long while and that would be the end of any chance of racing on Sunday. So the question was whether NASCAR could get the race past halfway or not, the point at which it becomes 'official'.

Perhaps that's why everyone was on their best behaviour for the race. There were no serious collisions or incidents, everyone kept off the wall: no one wanted to be the cause of a caution that could make the difference between getting to the lap 100 midway point or ending up forcing a costly restart on Monday. And as a result, there were no caution flags at all during the race, right up until the moment the rain finally rolled in over turn 3 and forced an initial yellow that soon became a red.

Kyle Busch had led for almost two thirds of the race distance by that point, taking the lead on the first lap from his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate and polesitter Denny Hamlin. The #18 then cruised around through to lap 84 with a grand total of only three laps out of the lead during a round of green flag pit stops around the lap 70 mark.

But as the race neared that all-important halfway point, Tony Stewart took one look at the clouds overhead and hit the warp drive button, soon closing down the gap Busch had built up and then taking the lead for himself on lap 85. When Busch tried to respond, he overreached himself and glanced the wall on lap 93 - not enough to do any serious harm or to bring out the dreaded caution, but sufficient to take the edge off the car's previous race-leading performance. He settled for trying to keep second from Hamlin.

"Trying to run back with Stewart's lap times, that's when I was trying too hard," Busch admitted. "[Got] too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there, caught the right-side a little bit."

That meant that with the exception of three laps during another green flag pit stop sequence, Tony Stewart would stay in front right up to the point where the race was called. The rain finally rolled in shortly after 3pm: by then the race had been underway for just over one and a half hours and had reached lap 125, well past the crucial halfway mark which meant there was no need to rollover to Monday to complete proceedings - to everyone's intense relief.

For a few minutes the cars circulated under yellow and the rain actually started to ease off, suggesting that they might get underway again. If it did, then the cars that pitted now under this caution would have the edge; but if it stayed yellow then they would be throwing away their track position needlessly.

Tony Stewart made a feint towards pit lane but had absolutely no intention of giving up the top spot; he was genuinely surprised when Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin all did go onto pit road for tyres and fuel.




Related Pictures

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Tony Stewart rounds a corner at Auto Club Speedway as imposing weather approaches during the Auto Club 400. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson`s smoking car pulls to the apron with an oil line problem during the Auto Club 400`s caution period for rain. Johnson nursed his car to a 10th-place finish. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Tony Stewart follows the pace car onto the pit road as the field gets the red flag after 129 laps at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Tony Stewart`s #14 Chevrolet takes control ahead of a heavy pack in the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Crew members work on the #25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, driven by Chase Elliott, after being involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident in front of Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota, and Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, as Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Hormel/Menards Toyota, drives away during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, and Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Hormel/Menards Toyota, race into turn one during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A view of a decal placed on the #14 Code 3 Associates / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart (not pictured), during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano (left), driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Joey Logano (left), driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, poses with Miss Coors Light Rachel Rupert after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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